Do You Use Real Locations in Your Fiction?

Here at Bookends, we recently did a Vodcast about asking questions.

Gerald Hornsby asked me random questions from my workbook: 100 Questions for Fiction Writers.
(Coming Soon)

One of them was; Do you use real locations or do you make them up? And it made me think of the use of location in our books. Are they real places or have we made them up?

In my case a bit of both. 

I usually take the seed of a real place and then change it to fit the story, as in
The Traveller and The Rose.

The fictional town of Santa Carmen is based on a small town on the Mediterranean coast of Spain. It is a place which I know well. It used to be a fishing village but has grown into a thriving town over the years. Santa Carmen features prominently in The Traveller and The Rose; it carries the hopes and dreams of the cast of characters and is central to the story.

Because I based Santa Carmen on a real place, I drew a map so that when I was writing, I could better describe the distances and routes the characters would take through the town. Where incidents would happen, and their significance to the characters.

There is main square and the hardware shop owned by Rosa’s family for generations. Paco’s house ‘has turned its back on the town…’ and is built into the hillside; whilst Katerina lives in a Cortijo outside of the village, where her family farm olives. And the beach where Kit and Rosa meet.
There are two cafes in the main town square frequented by different groups of characters and where the differences in the clientele becomes significant as civil war breaks out and families find themselves on opposing sides. Then there is the church: The Virgen del Carmen; prominent in the main square and a key player in that war; and the convent where the characters take refuge, and whose loyalty to Town and Church is tested by events. 

We are introduced to Santa Carmen from Kit Brown’s point of view. He is The Traveller –or, El Extranjero – the stranger – as they refer to him in Santa Carmen. The reader discovers the town from Kit’s point of view. 

June 1936, Santa Carmen, Andalucía
Kit Brown sat for a while on the hillside. From above, Santa Carmen looked tranquil, like it was living in a previous century. It seemed miles away from the growing suspicion he had witnessed in the towns and cities he had passed through. An old woman holding a piglet under her arm, hurried down the valley and shouted at the child behind her not to linger near the stranger. A flock of goats thundered down the hill, throwing up the red dust of summer, stopping to search for vegetation. They passed close by, but the shepherd ignored him completely. Kit had been warned that they didn’t welcome strangers in Santa Carmen.

In the next scene, we meet Rosa Saragossa (The Rose.) She was born in Santa Carmen and feels stifled by the small town and its narrow-minded views. How she chooses to describe the town, says a lot about the conflict she feels 

Up here by the fuente, Rosa could see the whole town below her as it melted into the hillside and ran haphazardly to the sea. The red roofs flounced like the skirts of a dancer and framed the squat white buildings which reflected the glare of the sun back into the sea. From the rounded green hills behind her, the soft clean smell of oranges was carried on a brisk breeze. Higher up the slopes were the olives which Katerina’s family farmed, and the vines which produced Vina Costa –the wine of the coast. It was hotter than it had been all summer and she was glad to be away from the town; from the stench of rubbish and effluence from a thousand souls; from the stink of rotting fish on the beach. Down there, the flies were worse than ever.

And as Kit Brown enters Santa Carmen, he begins to understand the claustrophobia and foreboding he felt on the hillside:

It was quiet as Kit Brown followed Paco and the mule down the deserted streets of Siesta, deeper into alleyways so narrow that he could touch the houses on either side. Sunlight barely reached the shadows where dogs slept watchfully and cats scurried away from the intruders.

As war takes our protagonists away from Santa Carmen, the landscapes they travel through reflects the emotional landscape of their journey and the progress of war. From Santa Carmen – to Malaga in the West, where war raged, and the smaller towns they pass through in between. Almeria is to the East – an escape route, leading along the east coast and turning North, into France. And to Granada in the North, into the Alpujarra and Sierra Nevada, where the gypsies roam the mountains and our protagonists find friends as the war progresses. The road from Granada takes them further into the war in Toledo and Madrid …

Like the protagonist, Kit, I basked in the beauty and tranquillity of rural Spain and was saddened by the consequences of this war on the people and their way of life.

… one can almost feel the heat and the dust of the midday Spanish sun as one reads.

Reviews on Amazon

This book was my homage to Spain – to Andalucia in particular. I wanted to show how landscape shapes the characters. It is a place which reflects the paradoxes and conflicts of its people.

Santa Carmen is based on a real place; re-created through the eyes of the characters in The Traveller and The Rose

Published by Anita Belli

Author and Creative Writing Tutor. Novels: Divas, Dogs & Dreamers. Once Upon A Blue Moon. Ruby Sixpence Whistles Up A Storm. The Traveller & The Rose. The Art Forger's Daughter. Non-Fiction: How to be An Author in the Classroom. Write Your Life. Kickstart Your Writing. Unlock The Block. For Children: A Month of Writing Adventure

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